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“I Am With You Always”

This morning’s newspaper included two very different stories that intersected in my mind and spirit. They gave me an insight which may be a comfort to you.

First, I read that, at the start of a Sunday school class he was teaching yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter announced that the brain cancer that was expected to kill him within months has completely disappeared.

Then, I read about the death of 4-month-old Eion Montgomery Borders. He was born with a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 18, and he spent his entire life in the hospital before dying a few weeks shy of Christmas.

An infant died when there was no miracle. A 91-year-old man miraculously recovered. What kind of spiritual calculus does that reveal? What would lead God to make such decisions? Is His determination of who lives and dies arbitrary? Or worse, is it somehow unfair?

You may never have voiced questions like those, but every couple I’ve ever led through the infertility Bible study has grappled with those questions in some form:

“Why don’t we deserve a miracle? Why doesn’t God want to help us? Why does He turn His back on us, but bless other people? Why did our baby die when others live?”

Without clear answers, the apparent injustice can be crazy-making and spiritually devastating. Over time, it can feel virtually impossible not to resent other people’s miracles — and turn our backs on God.

Which brings us back to the two newspaper stories….

Maybe we need a different perspective on what God is — or isn’t — doing. Look carefully, and you’ll see that very different circumstances led to similar outcomes.

When Carter learned he had brain cancer, he very publicly declared his trust in God’s plan. He was at peace with any outcome, he said, and by all accounts, that was true. The miraculous disappearance of four brain lesions gave him another opportunity to publicly affirm his faith, which enabled many around him to see God at work.

Meanwhile, Eoin — whose name means “God’s gift” — came into the world as the first child of parents who felt blessed by his arrival. Despite his genetic condition, “he challenged everyone’s expectations for his life,” said the Borders. “He challenged what people believe is possible….”

Then, he died.

But his legacy did not.

“Eoin’s major accomplishment in this world is that he stirred the hearts of people (his parents included) towards God and helped them focus on what truly is important in this life.” In writing his obituary, Eoin’s parents proclaimed that they are now closer to God and have deepened their understanding of life’s true priorities. Their public witness will touch many lives as the photo of baby Eoin captures the attention of readers this morning.

What if the stories of Carter and baby Eoin are two paths to the same destination? Asked another way, what if — from God’s perspective — it’s less about the outcome of their stories than what the outcomes accomplish in the lives of those touched by the stories?

Examined side-by-side, the two stories clearly demonstrate the power of both joy and grief — both healing and lack of healing — to immerse people in the loving presence of God.

The lesson, then? Both incredible good news and devastating loss are invitations to draw nearer, to sense God’s presence more fully, to hunger and thirst for His faithfulness, and to see that  — no matter what the circumstances — “I am with you always.”

I’m convinced that, particularly in this Christmas season, it’s all part of His great plan to show Himself Emmanuel, God with us.

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Want to draw nearer to God and find peace in the midst of your circumstances? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

 

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Reading the Tea Leaves

I have a smart and successful friend who has been a Christian all her life. Most people would say Gail is confident and capable, but she struggles with uncertainty. When her desire for control becomes too strong to resist, she has a secret:  She sees a psychic — and, together, they attempt to read the tea leaves to discern what the future holds.

It’s a struggle for me to hold my tongue. Not because she’s wasting her money or because she’s desperate for answers (who hasn’t been?), but because I’m convinced it’s a false security that she gains. And I believe it moves her further from, rather than closer to, the only one who truly knows what’s coming. The Lord says, “Trust me” and “Do not be afraid.” But, it’s too hard for her to resist peeking behind the curtain. Or trying to anyway.

I want to help you make a better choice.

First, let me say I totally understand the desire to know what’s coming. So does anyone who’s every wrestled with the many unknowns of infertility:  Is the doctor right about what’s wrong? Are we wasting time? Are we wasting money? Whose fault is it? If we knew, would that change anything? Is all this failure a sign? If we can’t know, should we keep trying — or should we give up?

And just as urgent are the even-bigger questions:  Will we always be the ones who never had a family? And if we are, will we walk away from God?

The answer is not in the tea leaves. Or in the cards. Or in today’s horoscope. Or wherever it is you turn hoping for a view of the future you are not meant to see. I say that with a high degree of certainty….

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.   – Isaiah 55:8

So, where does that leave you?

Maybe…. reassured. God’s thoughts are not your thoughts? That means He’s not worried, or desperate, or afraid. He’s not thinking about who to blame, or how to answer questions people have no right to ask. He’s not thinking about failure or biological clocks or limited budgets or imperfect doctors. His thoughts are not your thoughts.

Instead, His thoughts flow out of who He is and what He has promised. He is faithful. He is unchanging. He is Almighty. He is abundant sufficiency. And He loves you.

His ways are not your ways? So then, He’s not biting His nails, waiting for the test results, staying busy to avoid thinking about what’s not happening. Instead, He is drawing near to those who draw near to Him. He is seeking the hearts of those who are suffering and struggling, and He is offering help and hope — through his Son, and through the Holy Spirit.

He is not avoiding what’s hard and heartbreaking. He is in the midst of it — with you.

When your mind is full of urgent questions, it is easy to turn away from God and turn to anyone or anything you believe might give you the answers you crave. But I can tell you from experience:  Infertility is an extended invitation to get to know God better. Deeper. More intimately than you’ve ever imagined possible. Not because He needs it; because you do.

It will make you a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better neighbor, and a better ambassador for His Kingdom.

And when your baby comes, you will realize that a time you thought was all about suffering was actually all about growing in faith — in anticipation of the blessing that was destined to come.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

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Watch Your Words

This morning, I was reading Jesus Calling, and I came across this imperative:  “Watch your words diligently. Words have such great power to bless or to wound.” I think it’s fair to say that I am painfully aware of words’ power to wound.

When I miscarried twins — shortly after a maternity clothes shopping spree with my mom — I felt compelled to return everything we’d bought. Somehow, it seemed like it would bring closure.

But then, I reached the counter at Macy’s and held out my pile of unused clothing. The saleswoman asked, with a mixture of surprise and resentment, “You want to return ALL of this? Why?!”

I froze. The women behind me in line stared. Really? I was going to make them wait while returning ALL of this? The looks on their faces spoke their thoughts: We resent you wasting our time. I looked back at the saleswoman and said tearfully, “Because I just miscarried twins — and if I’m not pregnant any more, I don’t need these any more.” There was dead silence as the weight of my words sank in. I started to cry, she began scanning the tags, and the women behind me stared at the floor.

Was it the words she said? Yes, but also the ones she didn’t say. She indulged herself in resentment at my expense — without knowing the whole story. The arrogance was staggering, and belittling. And I was hurting so much already. Was she an awful person? No. She was a busy, insensitive one who lost sight of the fact that her job was to serve me… graciously. Instead, she left a wound that took a very long time to heal.

The same sort of thing happened when we called my brother-in-law to tell him about the miscarriage. My husband and I sadly shared the news, and he responded with a whoop and, “Now WE’LL have the first grandchild!” We were shocked by the realization that his competitive streak extended to bringing a baby into the world. Oblivious to our feelings, he let the words fly out of his mouth unfiltered. Like the saleswoman, he indulged his baser instincts at our expense. And it hurt our hearts.

I know it’s happened to you, too. Someone has spoken thoughtlessly and broken your heart.  Brought you to tears with a careless remark that cost them nothing but feels like it costs you everything: your composure, your dignity, your hope. Isn’t infertility hard enough already?

It killed me to be on the receiving end of the words slung at me by the saleswoman and my brother-in-law. And yes, there were many others: the boss who responded to office grapevine news of my miscarriage with the question, “Were you TRYING to get pregnant?,” the gynecologist who blithely reassured me, “You can always try again,” the high-risk Ob who saw the ultrasound and muttered, “hmmm… probably Down’s Syndrome,” the people at church who asked again and again, “When are  you two going to start a family?”

And on, and on, and on….

Their words left wounds, and some left permanent scars.

But, there’s good news: 1) their words did not determine our future; that power is God’s alone. And, 2) those experiences taught me the truth of these words from scripture:

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” [Prov 12:18].

Research has shown that we always imprint an experience more deeply if there is an emotion attached to it. Infertility — and the careless remarks people make — prove quickly that it’s true. But, so do your responses to this blog.

These are words that the Holy Spirit has willed into being by whispering into my spirit, nudging me to come to the computer to share what I see and understand. I am a stranger to you! And my only tools to help you are the promises of scripture and the healing power of words. But, I use those — one-on-one, with small groups, in my book and in this blog — to do all I can to deliver help and hope as you make your way through this painful journey to the amazing future the Lord has planned for you.

There’s nothing special about me or what I say 0ther than that the Holy Spirit works through me to guide you, encourage you, reassure and inspire you, and help you keep the faith.

So, the next time someone says something callous, heartless or just plain clueless…. come back here for words that will soothe your spirit and renew your hope. I’ll do what I can to bring healing.

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For more encouragement, help and hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

 

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Do Not Be Afraid

It is a source of great joy for me to work in my yard — planting, trimming, nurturing living things. The challenge is to create something beautiful that thrives without constant maintenance, something that lifts my spirits whenever I look out the window and calls me back outdoors. Because we’ve had so much rain over the past few months, all my plants have exploded with new growth. So, I decided to spend a few hours outside shaping the bushes and pulling weeds.

In the midst of my peaceful productivity, a neighbor suddenly yanked open her blinds and screamed at me, “Get away from that bush! What are you doing cutting it now?! Don’t you know….!?!?!”

I was so shocked by the sight of her — tightly wrapped in her white robe, arms flailing, face beet red — that I didn’t process any more of what she yelled at me. All I experienced was her RAGE!! I dropped the shears and looked down at my hands; they were shaking.

What in the world…?

I walked to her door and knocked. No answer. I knocked again and waited. Still, no answer. One more time, I knocked…. and nothing.

I knew she was in there, but she was not going to engage with me. I walked back home feeling bewildered. I’d been judged — condemned, and blasted! — and I would be given no chance to appeal.

Only this morning did I make the connection between that bizarre experience and the way many young couples have described infertility and the God they don’t understand.

For much of their lives, God has seemed largely silent and invisible — like my neighbor. They trust that He exists, but they have no real relationship with Him, nor do they sense that He wants one. In their minds, He has lived behind closed blinds and a locked door for so long, they don’t expect Him to make a sudden appearance.

They would welcome His assistance with their efforts to grow something wonderful — but they don’t believe He will offer to help because, like my neighbor, He never has.

Their latent fear is that, if He suddenly does materialize, it will be to vent anger. Just as she did, He will yank open the blinds, blast them with His fury, and then refuse to engage or explain. Better, they decide, not to engage Him at all.

Does that sound familiar to you? Do you find yourself avoiding a God you believe may be angry, rather than risking engagement? Have you tried to talk with Him, only to find Him unresponsive? Has He come to seem more like a cause for alarm than a source of hope? Like a condemning judge, rather than an ever-present help in times of trouble?

Then you need to claim this promise:

“… neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  – Romans 8:38-39

Whatever you may have done or not done, it cannot come between you and the One who loves you. Your circumstances may make you feel that His love has been withdrawn and you have been forsaken, but you do not need to be afraid. Scripture says:

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” – Romans 8:1

Begin to see your circumstances as an invitation to knock on the door, initiate a conversation, accept God’s limitless grace, and experience the truth that He makes all things possible. You will NOT have the experience I had with my neighbor. Instead, you will discover the source of all love and hope. Trust me.

Ball up your courage.

Knock on the door.

“Do not be afraid” [Matthew 28:10]

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Want more encouragement and cause for hope? Read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

 

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“Our God is Truly Awesome”

A few days ago, I wrote about the minister and his wife who adopted twins after despairing that they might never become parents. They were matched within weeks of presenting their profile to the adoption agency, and they flew across the country to witness the births of their boys. What a story of God’s incredible goodness!

Some of you who are in the depths of despair over your own infertility struggles may be tempted to argue that that story sounds like a fairy tale — that things like that don’t happen to people like you, and that it’s unlikely to change your circumstances if you trust a God who seems to be failing you already.

I understand those feelings. I wrestled with anger and resentment for years as we attempted to start our family.

So, here’a another story — with a very different outcome.

Jovita Nwaugwu was unable to conceive after years of fertility treatments. She discovered this blog and, through it, the book Pregnant With Hope. She emailed me recently asking for an opportunity to share her story with you. Rather than paraphrase her testimony, I will just post it here in her own words:

“Hello Susan,

I emailed you years ago about how to pray when you are struggling to conceive. Now, I want to share my testimony…

After 7 years of fertility treatment and no success, I decided to seek God seriously. During that time, I realized God does not owe me a child. I changed my spiritual environment and started fasting and praying to know when to stop the fertility treatments. Finally, my pastor told me it was time.

I prayed for a confirmation. It was time for us to start fertility treatments again and my husband refused. He said, “God doesn’t want us to go back for any further treatment.” Even though he had wanted us to go back to treatments, he suddenly changed his mind. I said okay, and I thanked God for His confirmation by my husband’s refusal.

This was in 2014. Then my husband said, “Let’s see what God has for us this year.” This was in April/May.

In August, I found out I was pregnant. Usually, when I’m pregnant, my progesterone level is low and my pregnancy ends up in miscarriage, but this time my progesterone level was perfect. I started thanking, trusting and believing God.

My daughter was born on March 17th and her name is Grace Ogechi. “Ogechi” means “in God’s time.”

Please, I want you to continue encouraging your readers. Your book, Pregnant With Hope, gave me all the hope I needed to go through the wilderness of infertility — and God saw me through. My pregnancy wasn’t an easy journey, but God was with me from start to finish. Our God is truly Awesome and doesn’t share His glory.”

And all God’s people said, Amen.

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For more help and hope, visit PregnantWithHope.info and read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

 

 

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How to Pray During Infertility

Periodically, I get emails from readers of Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  The most common question is “Will you pray for me?”  But this morning, I got a different question about prayer.  Jovita wrote to say she’s worried that she isn’t praying “right,” and she asked for guidance.  Here’s what I wrote in response….

The only wrong way to pray is without humility and honesty.  Those two components are essential to effective prayer.  Without them, your prayers are offensive to God because they are a charade.

Here’s what I mean.  Scripture says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  A humble heart is an acknowledgement that you need God; you cannot succeed without Him.  It’s an admission that you cannot force a heartbeat into the womb.  You cannot force a birth mother to choose you to adopt her child.  And, you cannot force God to respond to your agenda and your timetable.

Prayers without humility are often thinly-veiled attempts at arm-twisting, sweet-talking, or otherwise manipulating God.  They are typically demanding, selfish and short-sighted.  They are often prayers for instant gratification, rather than prayers of patient faith.  Does that seem at all familiar?  It was for me at the beginning of our infertility journey.

As for honest prayers, scripture makes clear that part of what God loved about David was his honesty.  David voiced his hopes, his remorse, his grief, his anger, his fear… all of it without censorship to the God He loved and trusted.  In response, God gave him a life beyond what he could have asked or imagined.

The same is true for us.  God wants an intimate relationship with us based on complete honesty.  He already knows our deepest thoughts, fears and hopes.  When we voice them to Him in prayer, we are owning the truth of who we are, how we think, and what we feel — and asking Him to love us in the midst of all that.  In spite of all that.  Doing so risks trusting Him completely.  And that delights and honors Him.

So, if you are praying with a humble heart and speaking the truth of what you feel, you’re praying the “right” way.

Beyond that, the most valuable, hard-earned wisdom I have gained about prayer is that telling God what I want and how I want it limits what He can do in my life.  The most truthful and humble prayer I can pray — and consistently the most effective — is “Lord, Your will be done.  I ask for Your best in this situation, whatever that may be, and I trust You to give it to me when the time is right.”

When I pray this way, I surrender (the illusion of) control.  I defer my will to His wisdom and choose to trust His judgment completely.  As a result, I begin to experience peace even before I know the answer.

Scripture says “the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” and I am “made righteous by faith.”  So, even if I don’t know when or how God will answer, I KNOW that He will.  It may be in a different way than I ever could have imagined.  Or, it may be just what I would’ve chosen.  Either way, it will be God’s best for me.

In hindsight, that will become clearer… and clearer… and clearer.

It always does.

So, pour your heart out to God.  Trust Him with the truth.  Acknowledge your limitations, praise Him because He has none, and rejoice that He can do ANYTHING.  Tell Him what’s weighing on your heart, ask Him to give you His best, let go, and allow Him to flood your heart with peace.

If you do, I can promise that — in His perfect timing — He will answer your prayers, to His glory.

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Will You Help Me Help Other Infertile Couples?

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who’ve found it to be a source of help and hope in the midst of the infertility journey.  It’s been amazing to be entrusted with prayer requests, test results, hopes & dreams — and periodically, the incredible good news that God is every bit as faithful as I promised.

Has the blog been a blessing to you, too?  Are you one of the thousands who’s read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples and experienced a greater sense of God’s presence?  Has it led to a meaningful change in your perspective?  In your spiritual life?  In every aspect of your journey?  If so, I’d like to ask a small favor.  Would you help someone else who’s struggling hear the same good news that’s helped you?  I’m looking for people who’d be willing to spend a few minutes writing a review of Pregnant With Hope on Amazon.

Every day, couples search online for resources that can help guide them on their quest to become parents.  You would do them a great service by candidly sharing your thoughts about what’s different and special about Pregnant With Hope.  In doing so, you’ll be paying forward a blessing you’ve already received:  the knowledge that you are not alone on this journey… God is with you always.

Thank you for helping me help other infertile couples discover the good news that they are already Pregnant With Hope.

p.s.  You don’t have to risk your privacy to write a review; you can use a pseudonym if you prefer not to use your real name.  It’s the comments you post that will make all the difference.  Thanks — and blessings to you.

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